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Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Going Vegan

Going Vegan

Sounds simple, doesn’t it. Going vegan – what can be so hard about that?

I’ve seen so much over the last year depicting the cruelty we inflict on animals (including fish and birds) in the name of food that I became overwhelmed and so deeply saddened I decided I no longer wanted to be part of that kind of society. So, what’s the answer? After all, I still need to eat. I eventually came to the realisation that the obvious answer is to go vegan. There we are then, decision made. This should be easy – all I have to do is avoid animal products and eat lots of fruit and vegetables. Good. I like fruit and vegetables and they say they’re very healthy – maybe I’ll even lose weight now. So off I go. Time to shop.

The problem is I actually like the taste of meat and cheese and milk and cream and eggs (yes, eggs and cheese were 2 of my favourite foods).

Never mind, let’s just get on with it. Think vegan from now on.

At the same time I decided to do my best to avoid palm oil because it’s impossible to know how it’s harvested, whether or not it comes from a sustainable source, and I worry about the orangutangs. Yes, I know that’s very sad but it’s how I feel. To make life even more difficult, palm oil sometimes hides behind the ‘vegetable oil’ label!

The fruit and vegetable shopping was easy. Or, rather, as easy as it gets in this sleepy little backwater of a town known as El Quseir. Nothing is fresh and nice here. To get fruit and vegetables that are fresh and nice with daily deliveries from the farms you have to go to Hurghada but that’s at least 1½ hours away and I don’t have a car so I have to buy locally. Fresh fruit and vegetables come in twice a week and once delivered tend to be left outside in the sun the whole time. No-one here seems to have heard of enclosed shops with air conditioning for fresh produce, let alone chillers. So, if you want anything even resembling fresh you have to shop on the days when the produce arrives and don’t leave it too late to go to the shop. Here it’s Thursdays and Mondays. Thursdays is when there is a bulk delivery throughout the town and Mondays seems to be a sort of “top up” delivery. Therefore, I delayed the start of “going vegan” until the next Thursday.

Visiting one of the better vegetable stalls in the town with a little more variety I was able to buy enough salad, vegetables and fresh fruit to sink a small battleship and to start my new lifestyle.

Next was normal grocery shopping. Forget eggs and cheese – these are now off the menu. I concentrated on general grocery so bought rice, pasta, and something we have here called Foul (made from fava beans) plus some bread and jam. I think the bread here is OK because I believe it’s made just with flour and water. I also picked up some packet soup. I made sure to avoid the beef and chicken soups and stuck to lentil, vegetable and mushroom.

Great – I have everything I need for my first week as a vegan.

WRONG!!! I checked a few facts on the internet and was then moved to check the packaging on the goods I had bought. It seems my soups – all of them – contain whey powder and sodium caseinate which comes from milk.

Then it dawned on me just how careful I have to be shopping. I realised that honey is now off the menu because it’s made by bees which count as animals. Cake is also off because it contains butter and egg. Filo pastry, a favourite of mine sold here laced with lots of sugar as a sweet bread, is also off because it has butter in it. Then pizza becomes a no-go zone unless you can have pizza without cheese (and whoever heard of that one) and I realise there isn’t anything I can safely order in McDonald’s or Burger King. Gladly, McDonald’s and Burger King are no great loss because I don’t really frequent them anyway. I occasionally buy an ice cream in McDonald’s when I visit Hurghada (certainly we don’t have anything even resembling McDonald’s or Burger King in Quseir) but missing this little treat will be no loss.

Then there are the sweets and treats. Many of these are now off the menu because they contain gelatine.

There are household products to avoid. For example, I always believed that glycerine soap was better for my skin. It certainly feels better but that is now something to avoid because the glycerine may be made from animal fats.

I can no longer drink wine because at the end of the fermentation process it is cleared down with something called isinglass which is made from fish bladders. I have to be careful about the shampoo I use in case it contains keratin (from hooves, hair, feathers etc). Then there are all the animal-origin E numbers to look out for; E120, E422, E920, E322, E161(b), E904, E570 not to mention D3 and anything that says it’s casein or **** caseinate (such as the sodium caseinate in the vegetable, lentil and mushroom soups I unknowingly bought).

There are very many sites on the internet offering help and advice on how to go vegan healthily and I found what seems to be a comprehensive list of what I need to avoid on this link, http://library.thinkquest.org/C004833/avoid_en.shtml.

So, it seems it’s not so easy after all.

I’ve been trying to be a vegan for about 5 weeks now. Eating lots of fruit and vegetables is the easy part. Getting used to reading and UNDERSTANDING the labels on household and packaged products is not so easy but I think I just have to keep a list with me and persevere until I get the hang of it.

What has been difficult, however, is telling other people. I work as a diving instructor and our dive centre has regular guests. By that, I mean that they are guests who come at least once a year, sometimes two or three times a year. They are very nice people and always bring us a little something they know we can’t get locally. For instance, our regular German guests are kind enough to bring me different types of German sausage. In the past this has been very gratefully received but I am now having to explain that I no longer eat these products. Another regular gift has been large bags of Haribo – also now to be declined because of the gelatine.

Disappointing is that in the last 5 weeks I have not lost any weight. I think this is my fault because it’s obviously possible to eat badly on a vegan diet, just as it is on a normal diet. I’m very fond of something sold here called “simsim”. This is a sweet made from sugar and sesame seeds and tastes really yummy. I have also managed to find a chocolate spread that I can use. It’s a mixture of chocolate and “Helawa” (a paste made from sesame seeds). It seems the ingredients are as easy as sesame seed paste , sugar, cocoa and hazelnut.

I have learnt to use a lot more beans and pulses – foods I never really thought of before. In the past one of my favourite dishes was chilli con carne. Now I make the same dish but replace the carne (meat) with a selection of beans typically including white haricot beans, black eyed beans, chickpeas and brown lentils in addition to the red kidney beans that I have always used. If I want the chilli to be a little thicker I add some orange lentils – they cook down very nicely and I have found them to be a wonderful thickening agent in many dishes.

So, I am now cooking more and learning how to make vegan dishes only to find out that in some cases, like the chilli, the end result tastes very much like the non-vegan version and is just as satisfying.

I am looking forward to a very vegan future and also to learning how to control this vegan diet to lose some weight. I just hope it gets easier with time and that I begin to understand those product labels. Really, I swear the manufacturers make them complicated on purpose just so that we don’t understand what we’re eating.


Perseverance is the name of the game and THE FUTURE IS VEGAN.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Earthlings - Full length documentary (multi-subtitles)

Some of you won't like what you see here because the truth is often hard to swallow. This is a very well made and presented film giving compelling reasons for not eating meat, not wearing leather and not going to circuses or other entertainment events involving animals. It also shows good reason to avoid any produce or service that his its effects tested on animals. Even if you like to ignore what you see at least you can't say that you didn't know! It may also give us an insight into how and why we seem to suffer so much these days from pollution and poisons in our diet causing US very painful diseases and distress.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Should Polygamy be Legal in the UK?

About 2 weeks ago I noticed on my Facebook feed that Al Jazeera English were hosting a discussion during their "The Stream" programme on the potential legalisation of polygamy in the US. Shortly thereafter, there were references to the potential legalisation of polygamy in the UK.

In the US it seems to be a definite intention to debate the legalisation of polygamy while in the UK it seems to stem from some of the clauses captured in the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill which starts its passage in the House of Lords today. It is expected to be a rough ride but supporters are certain it will eventually find its way into statute paving the way for legal marriages between same sex couples.

However, Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, has warned that "legalising same-sex marriage could pave the way for polygamy" and suggested "there was a "slippery slope" to allowing a "Mormon-style relationship"."

So, watch what happens in the US because where America treads we will surely follow and even if they don't make it legal across the pond it seems we could well be setting ourselves up for legalisation of polygamy through the back door anyway.

So, what do I think about it?

As long as it's done in accordance with all the other legislation we have surrounding EQUALITY then I'm in favour!!!

Traditionally the Christian view has been that marriage is an honourable institution before God being the union of one man with one woman until death do them part. Any legislation legalising polygamy will surely not be a compulsion to be polygamous so those who hold to the Christian faith will still be at liberty to enjoy their monogamy.

Also, those who believe in divorce and remarriage, a form of serial monogamy, will still be at liberty to continue with this lifestyle. In fact, you could say that serial monogamy dates back to pagan times when there would be a hand-fasting ceremony in the spring and couples would be bound together for a year. At the end of the year the couple could either stay together for another year or hand-fast with someone else.

Anyway, back to the point.

On March 25, 1957, France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg (the six nations of the Coal and Steel Community) signed a treaty in Rome establishing the European Economic Community (EEC), also known as the Common Market. In 1973 the UK (after a referendum), Ireland and Denmark also joined the community which now numbered 9 nations. Since then the community has grown to 27 nations and is now knows as the European Union.

One of the things the EU has been responsible for is bringing equality, through individual governments, to the population of the EU regardless of age, colour, creed, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender. There are those who would argue that it hasn't yet succeeded but certainly it has happened in many areas of our daily lives.

It started in a small way with pressure for equality in the workplace or, as it was succinctly put at the time, equal pay for equal work. This was a time when women were normally paid far less than men even if working alongside the men doing the same job. It was a difficult passage with employers managing to find many hidden differences in the work to justify the differential in pay. However, eventually it was (almost) achieved.

Over the years there have been many other instances of equality being brought about through the mechanism of the EU and the European Court of Justice (ECJ) leading up to the debating now of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill.

It seemed there was only 1 area of inequality left - the age at which a pension would be paid - but even that has gone now.

It all started back in 1986 when the pension age for a woman was 60 and for a man 65. It was, therefore, normal practice for women to be compulsorily retired at age 60 and men at age 65. However, a woman working for a Health Authority in the south of England was allowed to work past her 60th birthday and subsequently was compulsorily retired before her 65th birthday. She took exception to this and the case ended up with the ECJ who ruled that pension age and retirement age are not the same thing and that forcing this woman to retire at a younger age than a man was incompatible with equal treatment.

Following on this were a steady stream of cases highlighting areas of inequality. For example, a woman who gave up work to care for an invalid relative was not entitled to any kind of care allowance because housework and caring were considered to be part of her natural work. However, if a man had to give up work to care for an invalid he received an allowance. The ECJ ruled that this was incompatible with EU law. The British Government must have seen this coming because they changed the rules on the allowance just before the ECJ made its decision.

Another case involved a man aged over 60 receiving unemployment benefit. While receiving this benefit he started to receive his occupational pension (occupational pensions are private pensions and you can opt to receive them at an earlier age than the state pension). A corresponding amount was then deducted from his unemployment benefit. He argued that had he been a woman with a pension entitlement (pensions are an entitlement and not a benefit) from age 60 he would not have seen his pension reduced because his occupational pension was being paid and he would have been much better off.

It was becoming clear to the UK Government that they had to do something. They knew they were on a sticky wicket with the EU. They also knew that they would have problems in the future if they let things stay as they were because in the early days of pensions the money taken from employees towards this entitlement in old age was not invested. Rather, the money taken from today's workers was used to pay today's pensioners. At the start of the pension scheme it would be quite normal for a man to retire at age 65 and die within 3 to 4 years.

However, in a time of a mushrooming elderly population, people being healthier and living longer; some of the largest unemployment rates on record; and an ever diminishing number of jobs it was easy to see that this system would not be sustainable in the long term. Politicians of all persuasions knew they had to reduce the pension burden on the working population and the only way to do that would be to raise the pension age. But this would be a really 'hot potato'. Any attempt to raise the female pension age would be unpopular with at least 50% of the voters and all politicians like to keep their seats!

However, in May 1990 a protocol was inserted into the Maastricht Treaty which paved the way for equal pension ages for men and women. The British Government breathed a huge sigh of relief, settled down to do what had to be done to phase this in over a number of years and reduce the financial burden on the working population with the advantage that they could now blame it all on the EU.

Initially, they decided to bring the age for women up to 65 over a number of years and, once parity is reached, they will start to increase the pension age to 68 for everyone.

So, back to the point, we have to treat men and women equally - even when money is involved.

Therefore, I am all in favour of legalised polygamy. What we need to know, though, is whether this will be an open-ended polygamy (i.e. you can have as many spouses as you like) or a limited polygamy where the maximum number of spouses permitted at any one time is clearly stipulated in the legislation.

Once I have this information I will know how many husbands I will be allowed.

Yes, you read that correctly. I will know how many husbands I will be allowed.

We have to treat men and women equally in all things. Therefore, if polygamy is legal for men it also, by default, has to be legal for women. This equality is part of the joy of belonging to the EU!!!

Sunday, 10 February 2013

A Series of Unfortunate Events!!!


Imagine that something not so nice happens during the late evening.  You are in your home when someone calls and really frightens you. You manage to close the door without letting them in but they are banging on your door and shouting and screaming that they will make a big problem for you with the police.

About half an hour later a policeman arrives at your house and asks you to go with him to the station to answer some questions. How do you expect to travel to the police station?

By car, of course.

WRONG.....



Yes? Well expect to be disappointed if you were expecting a car.

This is a VERY long story that will definitely NOT be cut short but if you only want to know the answer to the question search this page for the word "policeman" to jump to the correct paragraph.

It all started way back in October. It was a normal working day in the dive centre and I had some serious diving to do with some guests. Early in the morning a car pulls up with 4 people in it.

One person is a German diving instructor. He works for himself and we have an agreement with him that he uses our facilities for a set rate and looks after his own guests. With him was another German - a young man - who was his student. Apparently this man had already gained his PADI Open Water and was here to complete an intense course working through Advanced Open Water Diver, Rescue Diver, Emergency First Response (EFR) and finally Divemaster.

The other two people with him in the car were an English couple. It seems the man had done something similar to the German student at a dive centre a bit further to the south. On achieving his Divemaster he had worked briefly for the dive centre involved but had then left and started work for this freelance instructor. Interestingly, his instructor at the dive centre who had taken him through the levels up to Divemaster was the same German freelance instructor he was now accompanying. So, having left the dive centre the Englishman was working as a Divemaster for this German guy. He was in Egypt with his wife, the other member of the group. His wife did not dive but liked to accompany him whenever she could and had come to spend the day on the beach.

I like to chat to all the guests at the dive centre but I suppose I spent more time chatting to this couple simply because they were English and I don't come across many English people here. They seemed like a nice couple from the north of England with plans to stay in Egypt for a while. For the man (I will call him Mr A - I won't use any real names here) his dream was to have his own diving business here. He had built himself a web page inviting people around the world to come and dive with him. He was setting himself up to arrange transfers, accommodation and diving for his guests. However, for the time being while getting started he was working for the German instructor.

The day went quite well and by the time we all left I was on friendly terms with this couple.

The next day I arrived early at the dive centre to find Mr A already there, alone, waiting for me. He explained he'd come because the day before he'd told me he would come but he hadn't had much sleep. There had been some sort of major problem the previous evening between him and the German instructor. It seems part of the deal there was that he lived in the German instructor's flat. The result of whatever the problem had been was that he and his wife had been evicted and they'd had to find alternative accommodation in the early hours of the morning. This was not an easy task.

Fortunately, they had kept in touch with some of the Egyptians Mr A used to work with at the dive centre where he'd trained and one of them offered him and his wife a room. Apparently, as we were speaking, his wife was busy unpacking and settling them in.

This also meant that Mr A no longer had a job (i.e. no income) but he wanted to know if he could still dive because he loved the diving so much. I told him he could dive with us any time for free and, if he liked, he could help me occasionally with courses but this was not a job offer and I couldn't pay him because I already had a full staff. He agreed to this.

The next day Mr A turned up with his wife and Mr A dived with me on a guided dive. It was a pleasant day and we got to talking again - as you do. Mrs A was saying how the room was OK but they would need to get something else soon because it was small and not much light and, and, and, and so, on the spur of the moment and for no conscious reason that I can fathom (the words just came out on their own) I offered that if they were ever stuck and needed somewhere just for a few nights I had a spare room in my flat that they could use. I thought no more about it.

After that Mr and Mrs A were regularly at the dive centre. He negotiated with the owner a deal to bring his clients to us and to use our instructors if his clients needed courses that, as a Divemaster, he was not able to do. So, sometimes he simply dived with us and sometimes he had a client with him to look after. Life went on as normal.

Occasionally Mr A would ask me about working as a member of staff in the dive centre but I explained to him that I didn't have any vacancy because (a) I was fully staffed and (b) he only spoke English but to work in my diving centre he needed to speak French (about 70% of our guests are French speaking), or German (about 25% of guests are German) or Italian (about 3%) so there was no way I could justify employing him even if I was in need of a Divemaster at the time.

Apart from that the chat was generally friendly and occasionally I would meet Mr and Mrs A in the evenings for some social time.

In early November Mr and Mrs A started talking about some family problems back in the UK and the need for Mrs A to go back for a short while (I seem to remember 3 weeks was mentioned) to sort things out. At some point during November Mrs A left. I did not pay too much attention because by this time my German friend, Doris, had arrived and was spending a week with me so most of my attention and social life was with her.

Then, out of the blue one day, Mr A rang me. He asked me if I remembered saying that if ever he and Mrs A had problems I had a room they could use. I told him of course I remembered. He then asked if he could move into the room NOW. I explained politely that he could not move in right now because my German friend was staying with me but he could move in when she left which meant waiting until the day after tomorrow. He said he'd call me in 2 days to arrange a time.

So, two days later when Doris left, Mr A arrived and settled himself into my spare room. I didn't notice any diving equipment among his belongings so I asked him about this and got the full story. It goes something like this:

Mr and Mrs A had taken a couple of holidays in Egypt before, in Sharm el Sheikh. Then last year they had taken a holiday in the south where Mr A had made a "try dive" and enjoyed it so much he went on to do his Open Water Course. From that moment his dream was to work as a Diving Instructor and dive his way around the world. Mrs A supported him fully in his dream.

Back in the UK, Mr A made arrangements with the dive centre where he'd done his Open Water Course to revisit to completed the courses up to Divemaster and was told there was the possibility of a job there afterwards. So, Mr A wrapped up his car body workshop business, liquidised his assets and came to Egypt.

It seems that at first everything went as planned EXCEPT for the finances. They hadn't been here very long when there were problems with one of the adult children and they ended up sending a large chunk of money back to the UK to bail her out. Mr A also admits to a couple of purchases here that, with hindsight, were not wise and further depleted their funds.

Still, he was nearing the end of his training and would soon be getting paid.

When he did start work it was not what he expected. He spent a lot of time in the swimming pool making Try Dives and talking to guests. His pay was very low and he was unable to move to independent accommodation.

Then came the point when there was some disagreement between him and the diving centre concerned. I don't really know what happened. I have one story from Mr A and a totally different story from the owner of the dive centre. Suffice to say that Mr A was no longer working there so he and Mrs A had to move out of the accommodation.

The German instructor had also recently left this same dive centre and heard about Mr A's predicament. This is when he offered him a job with accommodation. For Mr A this meant he was still on track to live his dream.

I'm not sure how long this arrangement lasted but it ended just after I met Mr A.

About 2 weeks after this the German instructor finished with his student and made his way back to Germany. This was another financial blow for Mr A.

Mr and Mrs A ideally wanted to rent an unfurnished flat because the rents here for unfurnished properties are around 1/4 that of a furnished place. The German instructor had all his own furniture and would not be taking it with him. So, he sold it to Mr A but told Mr A he couldn't take it yet because it was still needed. He gave Mr A a key to the apartment telling him to come and take the furniture after the German instructor had flown to Germany. So Mr A handed over the money and took the key.

The day after the German flew home Mr A went to the flat. He found the owner of the flat there. Mr A explained he'd come for the furniture but the owner wouldn't let him remove anything. It appears the German had not paid the rent for 3 months so the owner was claiming all the contents in lieu.

There was nothing Mr A could do. He had lost his money and still didn't have any furniture.

Things went from bad to worse for Mr A with no work and no income.

Before leaving England Mr and Mrs A had an emergency plan for their return. It was in the form of giving a car to one of the children. They didn't take any payment for the car on the basis that if they needed to return the UK the child (an adult) would buy them a ticket on her credit card. So, when Mrs A needed to return they contacted the child concerned. The reply they received was that no ticket could be bought for Mrs A because the credit card was maxed out!!

The bits and pieces of freelance work that Mr A was picking up did not provide enough income to save anything or buy a plane ticket. Nor did the solitary guest that came to dive with him as a result of his web page. Mr A now had to set about raising the money. Eventually the man he was sharing a flat with took pity on him and actually lent him the money. According to Mr A this was on the basis that there was no rush to repay it, he could repay bit by bit whenever he had work - it was a very relaxed arrangement.

So, Mrs A left and Mr A was on his own.

He still had bits and pieces of freelance work and two German guests did a couple of days diving with him as a result of his web page. And, he was still coming to my dive centre regularly simply to go diving.

Then one day when he had been out during the day looking for work Mr A returned to this flat only to find the door locked - the locks had been changed so he couldn't get in - and his suitcases outside. He tried to find the owner who just hours before he'd considered a good friend to find out what had happened and why he was being treated like this. The owner told him that he knew he'd had work, he was upset he hadn't offered to repay any of the loan, he now needed his money back so he'd kept the diving equipment and laptop plus a couple of other items in lieu of the money. Thank you and goodbye. That's when Mr A rang me and asked to use my spare room.

Mr A moved in and started to settle. He was in a very poor state, mentally and physically, and had spent 3 or 4 nights on the streets. He seemed relieved to be, as he put it, "safe at last".

After a day or two, Mr A started to think clearly again. He realised he needed to somehow get his things back. If he was to survive he needed work. Therefore, he needed his laptop to be able to search for and contact dive centres that may have some freelance work for him and he needed his diving equipment. If anyone did call him with freelance work it would be imperative for him to be fully equipped.

During this time I didn't see very much of Mr A. I was out at work all day, came home tired, and was in bed by around 10.30pm so I could get up again at 6.00 the following morning. When I arrived home Mr A was either already out or on the way out. I don't know what time he got home but it was after I went to bed and I didn't see him in the mornings - I assume he was still in bed. 

Then, one day I arrived home to find Mr A in the flat with his diving equipment (but no laptop). It seems his wife had left some jewelry behind when she went to England and he'd sold it to raise enough money to get the diving equipment back. His original debt was LE3,000 but the man he owed it too was now making him pay LE2,500 for the diving equipment and LE1000 for the laptop. It had taken the intervention of a friendly policeman sympathetic to Mr A's cause to actually get the equipment back once Mr A had raised the money (the man he owed reckoned he could get more for it selling it piecemeal) but he did get it. He told me two items were missing (a reel and an underwater torch) but at least he had the equipment he needed if he was offered any work. Hurray.

Now he just had the problem of getting his laptop back so he could use the internet to search for work. He needed LE1,000.

I think he was talking about this to another of his Egyptian friends in a local restaurant/coffee house with the result that this friend agreed to lend him the LE1,000.  I will call this friend Mr B. This must have been, from memory, around the middle of December - certainly before Christmas but not long before. So Mr A settled his previous account and reclaimed his laptop. He promptly set about looking for work.

According to Mr A this was another very relaxed arrangement with no need to make any effort at all to pay the money back until February.

In early January Mr B came to my flat looking for Mr A and took Mr A downstairs. According to Mr A, Mr B was accompanied by two of his friends and started to pressure Mr A to return the money saying he would take the laptop instead. Mr A told me about the conversation and said he'd persuaded Mr B to wait until 1 February.

So things were back to normal except that Mr A was no longer going out in the evenings. He seemed to be looking for work and I helped him rewrite his CV with a bias towards diving. I used my experience of what I look for when someone send me a CV.

At first he seemed to be a bit less depressed having something to do. However, the depression was quick to reclaim him. His nightly email conversations with his wife upset him because he missed her so much and she was obviously very unhappy in her current situation. Also, the replies he was receiving about work were quite positive but the jobs were not immediately available. I had tried to explain to him that we are in the low season and he doesn't speak any languages so it WILL be difficult. He was finally beginning to believe me.

Then just before the end of January I started my vacation. The dive centre was not busy and I should have about 1 month as holiday. I hardly take any days off during the busy times so this would be a good time to relax and chill.

This meant, though, that I was home with Mr A. I was up around 8am and Mr A was up around 1pm. I went to bed around 11pm and Mr A often didn't go to bed until 5am or 6am. In his defence, he was spending all his time researching dive centres and sending off his CV. In the 6 days that this lasted I think Mr A managed to email every single dive centre in Egypt, Cyprus, Malta, Spain, Portugal, Mallorca, Sicily, Italy and possibly others, always asking my advice about what the diving would be like and ignoring me when I pointed out he didn't speak the required languages.

He did get an excellent offer on Malta and was quite excited about it for a while. He replied that he'd like to accept and they sent him a list of things they needed him to scan and send to them, like his passport and Divemaster certification. This went well until he reached the item on the list that said "Driving Licence". Divemasters on Malta generally need driving licences because you drive the guests to the dive site - it's mostly shore diving. Sadly, Mr A doesn't have a driving licence. He DID have one but he 'lost' it. He was clocked riding his motorbike doing a wheely at around 84mph in a built up area. He was not only clocked on radar but they were running video at the time as well. So, they took his licence away for 3 years. He thought he was due to get it back and asked his wife to find out for him. The reply was that he could have it straight away but it would be a provisional licence. He has to retake the practical test - the extended version - before he can reclaim his full driving licence. Therefore, he did not meet the criteria for the job and the offer was cancelled. He did hear from them again afterwards and there is a slight possibility he MAY be able to work with them during the high season.

Anyway, I digress. Here's back to the theme.

On the evening of the first day of my holiday Mr B called at the flat to see Mr A. They spoke on the balcony and I got on with what I was doing. After all, it was none of my business.

They came inside and immediately Mr B started trying to involve me by explaining that Mr A owed him money. I interrupted him straight away to say his business with Mr A was with Mr A alone and was nothing to do with me - I was not interested, did not want any part of it and they should resolve the issues between themselves.

Once Mr B had left Mr A insisted on giving me his side of the conversation in spite of what I'd said. It seems he did owe Mr B LE1,000 and he'd promised to pay him on the following Saturday.

Over the next 5 days Mr A continued to become more and more depressed as he sent out more and more job applications even for non diving jobs. He was now, for example, looking for work as a shelf stacker or an order picker or anything he thought he could do. Then he decided he'd go to Malta anyway because there were a couple of hints of jobs even without a driving licence but the season doesn't start until April or May. He checked the flights and got very excited.

However, he needed money to pay for the flight. He asked his wife if it was possible to put some money in the UK bank account he still had so he could pay on his card. His wife told him she'd sold the car they'd left with the daughter. The daughter didn't want it any way and she'd got £300 for it. It's another long story that doesn't really have any place here but it seems she was ripped off by her son-in-law as the car was worth far more AND he was delaying paying her even though he had the money.....

Nevertheless, after a couple of days the money was in the bank and Mr A went back online to book the flights. In the meantime, of course, the cost of the flight had gone up.

Then everything continued to go wrong for Mr A. He booked to take two suitcases with him thinking that they would be 20kgs each so he could take 40kgs. When he got his confirmation email it said he could take two suitcases with a combined weight of 20kgs. He did complain and the company refused to make any refund but did eventually agree that if he paid the difference he could take one suitcase and one sports bag giving him a total of 32kgs.

There were several other minor incidents but eventually the day came for Mr A to leave. He packed as much as he could but had to leave quite a lot behind. Still, he had his diving equipment and the essentials of life.

It was now Sunday and Mr A left by taxi at 2pm.

But remember he'd promised to repay the LE1,000 on Saturday. There'd been no sign of Mr B so I supposed it was all taken care off.

Then Saturday afternoon and evening were great. It was very relaxing just to be alone with my cats in my flat again after such a long time sharing. It did seem very quiet and I suppose, in a way, I noticed that Mr A wasn't here but I was happy for things to be back to normal.

Then on Monday I had a surprise. I was sitting watching TV during the evening when someone knocked at my door. I opened the door to find Mr B and a friend of his outside. I did not invite them in but asked what they wanted. Of course, they'd come for Mr A. I explained Mr A wasn't here so they asked where they could find him. I was honest enough to tell them he'd left the country and gone to Malta. At this point Mr B started to become quite aggressive.

Mr B asked me to give him his money saying it was my responsibility because he'd told me about it only 7 days before. When I reminded him I'd made it clear it was none of my business but was between him and Mr A he became extremely threatening and aggressive and I became very frightened. That was why I closed the door, to put a barrier between us.

He continued banging really loud on my door, shouting and screaming, getting all my neighbours involved and threatening to make a big problem for me with the police.

Eventually, after around 20 minutes of this tirade I heard footsteps going down the stairs and it was quiet. He had left. Thank goodness.

Then about 30 minutes later there was another knock at my door. I put the chain on this time (better safe than sorry) and opened the door to find a policeman standing there. He didn't speak English and I don't speak Arabic. So, he called someone and then I called someone and eventually I understood that Mr B had made a complaint so they wanted me to go to the station to make a statement. I got my coat and key and left with him.

As we got outside the building I asked "where's the police car?". Answer - there isn't one. So, how do we get to the station? Answer - we stand on the corner of the street and wait and eventually we either flag down a taxi or take the bus.

Yes, really, I'm not kidding you. He flagged down a taxi to take me to the police station.

When I got there Mr B was also there so I made sure everyone knew how aggressive he'd been earlier and how frightened I was of him. I was then introduced to an interpreter and taken to a different part of the police station to make my statement. The first thing I was asked for was my passport.

I hadn't taken this with me so had to go home to get it - accompanied by the policeman, of course. This time we travelled by bus.

I collected my passport and enough money for the taxi home and returned to the station.

By this time the interpreter had gone home but a senior police officer spoke very good English. He was going to take my statement but officially needed an interpreter so took someone's ID card from his drawer and had them shown as the official interpreter on the finished statement. By the way, statements are handwritten and NOT typed up.

It seems Mr B's claims were:

1        Mr A and I are married therefore as his wife it is my responsibility to settle his debts if he leaves the country

2        Mr A had contacted him and told Mr B that he (Mr A) had given me LE2,000 to pass on to him.

All a load of rubbish.

So I made my statement refuting everything Mr B had said and including my account of his threatening behaviour which had frightened me so much earlier in the evening.

At this point, my passport was returned and I was sent home. I had to be back at the station with an interpreter at 9am because there would be a court hearing the next day.

I contacted a friend who would act as my interpreter and turned up on time the next morning.

There was a lot of waiting around and Mr B did not have to appear. Having arrived at the police station we left there (by taxi) for the court at around 9.45am and had to wait until nearly 11am to be called. It was a private session with a "judge", court recorder (handwriting), me and my interpreter. After confirming my name and address and presenting my passport again I was asked a few questions about what Mr B had said in his report and made it clear that there was no relationship between me and Mr A, except we are both English and I had simply given him a roof when he found himself homeless and that Mr A had not left any money with me at all.

I suppose I was in the "court" (anyone accustomed to a European court would not believe that this was actually a legal proceeding in a 'court of law') for less than 5 minutes.

Then I waited another 20 minutes while the recorder finished writing the notes and applied the appropriate number of official stamps to all the documents after which everything was handed back to the policeman. The policeman gave me back my passport and we left the 'court' on the bus.

I should have gone straight home but was advised to make a complaint against Mr B for his behaviour so that he could be prevented from harassing me in the future. So, I stopped at the police station to do this.

It was then that a very nice senior police officer with 4 or 5 stars on his epaulet told me that based on my statement the day before this had already been taken care of. Mr B had received a visit from the police and is not allowed to come anywhere near my apartment or even to speak to me if he sees me in the street.

That's what I call a result or, to quote from someone much more talented than I, "all's well that ends well".

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Will the Revolution in Egypt ever end?


When I arrived in Egypt in 2007 President Hosni Mubarak was in power and had been for a VERY long time.

Many Egyptians didn't have work; health care and education were not good, if they existed at all, for a large proportion of the population; wages were exceptionally low for those with jobs (unless they were in high level jobs - which needed a good education - where salaries could be quite excessive); freedom of speech was discouraged and could land you in a lot of trouble; freedom of movement around the country was curtailed (it was almost impossible for an Egyptian to get into a tourist area unless he had a job, family or business there or was rich enough to afford to actually stay in one of the tourist hotels). The wealthy and well-pain would tell you that Egypt was a 'free country' but that was not the reality for the majority of the population.

On the other hand petrol and diesel were REALLY cheap (in 2007 I paid LE1.25 per litre for petrol - at the time around £0.13 Sterling) as were bread, food and local transport.

There was an amazingly large gap between rich and poor with the rich getting richer and the poor not moving at all.

People wanted change. They wanted an end to government corruption and a better life for themselves and their children. In short, they wanted a better share of the cake, better health care, better education, better job prospects. They also wanted to live their lives the way THEY want to live and not the way the government decided they should live. They wanted the freedom to go wherever they wanted in THEIR OWN country when they wanted. They also viewed the corruption of the past within the government as a form of stealing from the masses and they wanted this money returned to the general population.

Who can blame them?

So, against all the odds and risking imprisonment or worse for actually airing their views, which would be seen as anti-Mubarak and carry heavy penalties, they actually got themselves organised to form a demonstration in Tahrir Square.

They used social networking and mobile phones to organise themselves and finally they all got together in key areas like Tahrir Square in Cairo and the main streets of Alexandria. It is noteworthy at this time that Mubarak's government managed to cut off all external communications. The internet in Egypt was down for several days (by order of the government) and mobile phones could only make strictly local (i.e. within the same town) calls. No international calls could be made or received neither could any calls between the cities. SMS was also restricted to local recipients. If your friend travelled to another city you could no longer call him/her!!!

However, the rest is history now. Mubarak was toppled.

Then followed a strange sort of hiatus. The military took control but promised free and fair elections while the wheels of democracy were supposedly built and honed ready for the New Egypt to emerge. The mood was expectant.

This was a strange time. No-one liked the ruling military council but could not see any other way. However, every time they made any decision at all there would be new demonstrations in the streets and squares of the major cities. Fortunately, the tourist areas remained quiet.

Sadly, however, the pictures on the international news channels discouraged potential tourists from coming to Egypt - they simply found other places to go. During the revolution itself many countries actually evacuated all their nationals and halted all flights to Egypt until some form of 'normality' was restored.

This was exceptionally painful for the very large number of Egyptians working in tourism. Many of the hotels and tourist centres closed and the staff in other hotels were being laid off without pay.

So, the poor just got even poorer.

Nonetheless, people were optimistic. Elections were planned and they were sure that once these elections were over the tourists would come flooding back and they would see a new era dawning.

It became obvious quite early on to the educated (who took advantage of the fact) and to outsiders that many Egyptians simply did not understand the democratic election process. In the early elections for the Lower House a large proportion of the population turned out to vote. The campaign had, from a foreign point of view, been quite interesting with all the candidates adopting a unique symbol - an aeroplane, an iron, a cup of coffee, a palm tree, a jeep, a food mixer, etc. The reason was, on reflection, quite obvious. With such high levels of illiteracy how could people know whose name to check on the ballot paper without a symbol to help them.

The wealthy and the organised (like the Salafis or Muslim Brotherhood) encouraged everyone to vote but did not seem to interfere too much in persuading them who to vote for.

Then came the elections for the Upper House. Again there was a high turn out but with slightly more pressure from the wealthy and the organised about who to vote for.

It came as no surprise when the Muslim Brotherhood gained a large proportion of the seats in both houses but it did worry some as there was much talk about the imposition of Sharia Law in Egypt.

Tourists DID NOT come like before. The people were very disappointed. Some hotels managed to re-open but by no means all. The increasing tourism of previous years meant that many hotels were under construction - this work stopped now. There were no more jobs and people were no better off than before - in fact many people found themselves worse off.

But Egyptians are nothing if not optimistic. They would often say to anyone who asked that Sharia Law cannot happen here because the people won't let it. And they prayed for tourism to increase at least to former levels. They would then tell you that the coming year would be a good one and people will always come back to Egypt.

Unfortunately it seems they were wrong. Tourism in the first quarter of 2012 was only 25% of the tourism in the same period of 2011. We must remember here that the revolution effectively cancelled ALL tourism for 6 weeks of the first quarter of 2011 and that overall tourism in 2011 was down by 32% on 2010 levels. You don't need to be a member of MENSA to realise that business in 2012 was VERY poor indeed. In fact, local Egyptian newspapers recently described the tourism industry here as being on the verge of collapse.

Many people did not get their jobs back, as they had hoped, and hotels did not re-open en masse.

Rather, more pain and suffering was inflicted on the people of Egypt. Since the presidential elections there is a fuel shortage. The result of this where I am living is that you can only buy petrol or diesel twice a week and the price has rocketed. There have been reports of retailers charging more than LE4 per litre against the LE1.25 of before. The bottles of butane gas used for cooking were previously LE7 to exchange. However, with the present shortage you can only find butane once a week and can be charged up to LE100 for the same exchange. There is a lack of fuel for the local power station which means that there are regular blackouts in the town.

Increased fuel costs can only mean one thing. The cost of EVERYTHING goes up. So everything is more expensive now but incomes have gone down. It's a case of the poor now being much poorer than before which is not what they bought into during the revolution.

But they hang on in there for the day when the tourists will come back.

Personally I don't see this happening yet because the revolution doesn't really seem to be over.

We still have large crowds in Tahrir Square, on the streets of Alexandria and the key cities of Ismalia, Port Said and Suez mounting protests at anything and everything that they believe restricts their freedoms or impoverishes them further. Only a few days ago there was a major riot which resulted in President Morsi declaring a State of Emergency in Ismalia, Port Said and Suez following several deaths related to the demonstrations there.

The problem here is that the violent clashes and deaths in these far-flung but important cities are NEWSWORTHY. This is what people around the world see on their TV screens or social media and hear on their radios. These are the images that stick in their minds. This is what they think about when they are sitting comfortably in their lounge at home or in the travel agent's shop trying to book their holiday. With all this in on your mind would you really book a holiday to Egypt?

The answer is obviously a resounding "NO" because people are simply NOT coming here.

Those who have already been during more peaceful times and understand the lie of the land are contacting their friends living here and actually asking us if it's safe in the local area. I live in a touristic area and IT IS SAFE HERE - PLEASE DO COME. Nothing bad will happen to you here.

On the other hand I think it is clear to the whole international community that the revolution in Egypt is far from over yet.

I support the Egyptian people in their dreams for themselves and their families. They deserve to experience real personal freedoms with good education and healthcare for all, affordable food and housing and many of the other enviable benefits they perceive that those outside Egypt enjoy.

But if they are relying on tourism to boost the jobs available and their household incomes then they really need to bring the revolution to a close so that the pictures on the TV screens around the world are of a peaceful and stable Egypt. Then the tourists WILL come back.

After all, EGYPT HAS IT ALL - culture, sunshine, the Red Sea, a beautiful desert. It is an ideal place to relax and enjoy some time away from the rat-race faced by many in other countries.

So, when will this happen? Who can say? I certainly can't but I do hope it will be VERY SOON.

     ________________________________________________________________________

For those interested in statistics and more technical information please continue reading.

TOURISM STATISTICS

Year
Number of Tourists
Income from Tourism
Notes
2008
12.8million
$11billion

2009
11.9million
$10.5billion

2010
14million
$11.5billion

2011
10million
$9billion
Revolution started in January and "ended" in February

NOTES

Official reports and statistics show tourism fell by 32% in 2011 following the revolution. However, businesses working within tourism reported a much larger decline. They suggest that official figures were propped up by counting all the Libyans, Sudanese and Palestinians who fled to Egypt during crises in their own countries and that they are not really part of the normal tourism.

This problem arises because when calculating the official figures the authority responsible for collecting the information (the Central Authority for Public Mobilization and Statistics) relies on data from airports and border controls. This means that ANY non Egyptian who enters the country with a visa (which can usually be purchased at the point of entry) is considered a tourist.

Tourists from Europe and Russian have always been the mainstay of the industry in Egypt and 2011 saw these figures fall quite dramatically. For example, tourists from Europe accounted for 11.1million of the 14million visitors inn 2010. This figure dropped to 7.2million in 2011, down by 35%.

Calculations of tourist spending shows that the average dropped from $85 per tourist per day in 2010 to just $72 per tourist per day in 2011. Coupled with the decrease in the number of tourists this had a significant financial impact on the industry.

Many directly involved in the industry at high levels claim that the situation would have been very much worse were it not for the fact that during 2011 prices were slashed quite dramatically throughout the country.

Egypt earns most of its foreign currency from tourism with contributions via remittances from Egyptians living abroad and revenues from the Suez Canal. The steep decline in tourism returns in 2011 saw the foreign currency reserves halved to just $18billion by the end of the year.

Even the Tourism Minister, Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour, is concerned about the ongoing situation and is quoted as saying, "The impact of the revolution has been dramatic on tourist inflow and on the level of prices".

Figures for 2012 are not yet available. Official figures for the 1st quarter showed tourism down 25% on 2011. Hoteliers throughout the Red Sea are reporting average occupancy rates for 2012 as between 45% and 50% with some hotels having closed completely. Other official surveys have highlighted that during 2012 the average daily spend for those tourists who did come was only $50 per day.

ELECTION PROCESS IN EGYPT

Extracts courtesy of Wikipedia:

THE LOWER HOUSE - People's Assembly
Turnout was between 62% and 65%
The election was conducted under a parallel voting system. Two-thirds of seats were elected by party-list proportional representation. The remaining one-third were elected under a form of bloc voting in two-seat constituencies.
The election to the People's Assembly took place on the following dates:[17]
·                    first stage: 28–29 November, run-off on 5–6 December;
·                    second stage: 14–15 December, run-off on 21–22 December;
·                    third stage: 3–4 January, run-off on 10–11 January.
There are a total 508 seats in the Lower house: 498 seats are elected, and 10 seats appointed, in this case, by the Military Council, and usually by the President.
Under the parallel voting system used, out of 498 total seats, two-thirds, meaning 332, were elected by means of party list proportional representation. For these seats the public voted for parties or coalition-lists and the result was determined by the largest remainder method with a 0.5 percent threshold, in 46 districts.
The remaining 166 seats were elected by bloc voting in two-seat constituencies, with the possibility of a run off. In the election voters each cast two votes, which could not be for the same individual. 

[Author's note: Rules were introduced to ensure that farmers and labourers were included in the process and achieved seats in the People's Assembly.  Organised political parties had to field at least 1 woman candidate.]



THE UPPER HOUSE - Shura Council
Turnout was around 12.2% with many citizens boycotting the election citing it as a waste of time.
At the time of the election the Shura Council had 270 seats, of which 90 were appointed and 180 elected. Of the 180 elected seats, 60 were elected by majority voting in single-member constituencies, and 120 by proportional representation based on the total number of votes cast in the constituencies. Voting was compulsory for men, with a potential £20 fine for non-voters.
Party lists had to include at least one woman candidate, and had to pass a 0.5% electoral threshold to win a proportional representation seat. For the constituency seats, candidates were required to win over 50% of the vote and for there to be either a farmer or worker elected from their constituency in order to be elected in the first round. Run-offs would be when no candidate won over 50% of the vote in a constituency, and in cases where two candidates achieved over 50%, but neither of them were workers or farmers, the candidate with the highest number of votes would be declared elected, and a run-off held between the highest ranking workers and farmers.


 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
Turnout around 43%.

The presidential election was a two-tier process. After the first round if no candidate had achieved more than 50% of the vote there would be a run-off between the two leading candidates.
  
The first round took place on 23 and 24 May 2012. There was no clear winner from the first round so there would have to be a run-off between the leading candidates; Mohamed Mursi (Muslim Brotherhood) and Ahmed Shafiq (former Senior Commander in the Air Force and interim Prime Minister from 31 January 2011 to 3 March 2011 appointed by Mubarak in response to the uprising).

The final result was very close with 51.7% recorded for Mohamed Mursi and 48.3% for Ahmed Shafiq. To this day there are those who still believe the election was somehow 'rigged'.

A very large proportion of the population refrained from voting because they did not believe either candidate was suitable to be their President.